January 29, 2009


One of the things I've liked about quilting is working on many projects at once. In knitting, I generally work on one project at a time, maybe two. The choice is just whether to knit or not. In contrast, I have many quilt projects in process at the same time, and the different types of projects and the different stages they're in give me the pleasure of working on whatever I may feel like at the moment: needle-turn appliqué, machine piecing, designing, machine quilting, hand-quilting—with more than one project going in each category. But I'm now feeling that I have too many projects in the air, and that the frequent switching back and forth means that a long time can pass before any one thing is completed, depriving me of the pleasure and satsifaction of seeing the work done.

And if I'm flitting from quilt to quilt, it's especially difficult to make progress with the quilts that are of my own design, the ones in which I'm working out thoughts, ideas, feelings that need the expressive vehicle of art. It's scary to work on these, something I've written about in another blog. (This is a group blog for people who share the experience of having worked with Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr of FunQuilts.) After that post, Louise and I were talking more about the issue of fear, and she brought up "perseverance"—how important, and difficult, it is to persevere—rather than moving on to something else as soon as there's some block or snag in the design process. I had already decided to limit myself to working on only one or two things in a given block of time, and keeping the word "perseverance" in mind has really helped me continue working for a couple of weeks on one "big idea" quilt that has been in my mind for a long time. I put a little sign on the studio wall: PERSEVERANCE. It helps. (Christine Kane's notion of choosing a "word for the year" hasn't interested me before, but now it clicks.)

So here's what developed when I kept persevering on the quilt I call "shelter." For a long while, I've had the idea of four curved bands of color, and I've made a lot of small maquettes with various shapes, like this:

Recently, I made the big step of going from the small maquette (about 8x9") to full-size (about 40"), but I realized that it didn't translate well—the large pieces looked clunky and boring. I decided to try out different ways of piecing the bands. First, I tried some strip-piecing:

Then some improvised "crazy-piecing":

I like this one very much, but it doesn't work for the idea of this project.

Then I went back to the stripped-piecing, but overlaying different bands to get a variety of angles. The result is in the image that opens this post. I like it. Here it is again, just so they're all in a row.

January 28, 2009

Mom's Needles

Today I needed some #4 double-pointed needles to finish the neck on a sweater, and then I needed a #13 circular needle for knitting a string bag. No problem—I had them at hand, along with about every size of regular needles and crochet hooks too. Pulling out this stash of needles floods me with memories of my mother. These are her needles, accumulated over a long life of knitting. My mother always had something on her needles, alongside other projects she did over the years: macramé, beading (flowers, necklaces, earrings), rug hooking, needlepoint (including the chair backs and seats above). Those projects came and went, but knitting was constant. I don't know what she made with the teensy crochet hooks—perhaps doilies that were around the house, made earlier in life than I knew her. Or maybe she inherited them from her mother, Annie Schine, as I have inherited them from her.

My mother made sweaters and afghans for the whole family; later on there were babies to make gifts for—not just her own grandchildren, but all through the family, and friends' too. The basic baby gift was a toddler sweater, with the child's name knitted in or embroidered onto the back, with a stripe on the sleeve and a number representing the child's order in the family. If my mother had been invited to the wedding—a convenient marker of closeness of relationship—then my mother would knit a Scottish lace baby blanket for the newborn, a thing of beauty that could also double as a shawl for the new mom.

When I was in my mid 30s, accepting infertility and the unlikelihood I would have children, I asked if my mom could knit one of the baby blankets for me, so I could use it for a shawl. She did, and as life turned out, I could use it for our adopted son a few years later.